In my last article (TPN, Sept 9, p18), I went to great lengths to precisely outline why it is that human beings have to suffer so much. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, I encourage you to read it on the website before continuing on with this article. Having done that, you should now have a general awareness as to how Buddha viewed suffering: suffering is simply inherent to the human condition.
What is the very first thing that a baby does when he is born? The answer is he cries. He doesn’t laugh, he doesn’t smile, he simply cries. The baby arrives in this world crying. That should tip you off that life is full of suffering. The baby cries he because he is anxious, unhappy, scared, or already otherwise suffering.
All human beings will suffer while we live and all human beings will experience depression before they die. Depression is simply a normal expression of the state of man. However, there are two things that separate normal depression from medically diagnosed depression. The first is how long the depression lasts. The second is how we deal with it.
To that end, one school of Buddhism shuns most psychotropic medications in favour of managing the depression with the power of the Dhamma (Teachings of Buddha). The other school favours antidepressants first and the Dhamma second. If you suffer from chronic depression and want to acquire peace through Buddhism, I suggest you go with the latter of the two options. I urge you to see a physician and follow their advice before proceeding with learning and practicing Buddhism.
I say this for a number of reasons. First, it generally takes several years for most people to master Buddhism. Whereas antidepressants can work in as little as two weeks. Second, if an antidepressant is successful, it can calm the storm within you and give you an excellent platform on which to begin your journey into Buddhism.
Buddha himself indicated that a person needs to satisfy their basic needs before engaging in Buddhism. In other words, a hungry man cannot meditate. Antidepressants are a new and powerful tool that can help people meet their basic needs. Moreover, you can gradually wean yourself off antidepressants as your knowledge of Buddhism progresses and begins to change your life and your way of thinking.
But you might ask just how is it that Buddhism can help improve a chronic case of depression? My answer to that is drawn from a Dhammatalk given by an Enlightened Monk named Luang Pu Waen Succino. I had suffered horribly from depression for many years before I learned these helpful words of insight – I’ll paraphrase what he said.
Have you ever noticed that, when we’re depressed, we are often dwelling on the past? Thinking of things we used to have, people we used to love or injustices that have befallen us? In turn, have you ever noticed that, when we’re anxious, we’re almost always thinking about the future. Events that we cannot control, bad things that could happen to us, or a fate which may or may not ever be?
There’s actually a simple formula here, if you allow yourself to see it. Thinking too much about the past causes suffering. Thinking too much about the future causes anxiety.Depression and anxiety routinely lead to anger but depression, anxiety and anger are actually just the same emotion: Agitation.
Agitation always leads to stress and suffering. You can prevent suffering by allowing your heart to dwell within the living moment, the eternal now. For example, I was worried about the US economy the day that I wrote this article. I was worried about my financial security. However, remembering Phra Succino’s talks on this matter, I realised that I was thinking too much of the future and causing myself to suffer.
I needed a way to allow my heart to dwell in the living moment and I found one: ice cream sundaes. Yes, it was over my daily budget but it soothed my troubled spirit. That relaxed me a bit, and I meditated, and that was all I needed. I was calm the rest of the day.
So, to conclude, if you’re fighting depression and are interested in Buddhism, be mindful of this formula: First, follow the Five Precepts of Buddha. Then, meditate often. When you start to get depressed, stop thinking of a bygone past which you can’t change anyway. Nor should you think of the bad things that could happen in the future. Instead, allow your heart to dwell in the living moment.
All About Buddhism is a monthly column in The Phuket News where I take readers on my exotic journey into Thai Buddhism and debunk a number of myths about Buddhism. If you have any specific queries, or ideas for articles, please let us know. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do our best to accommodate your interests.